Are UK organisations merely paying lip service to whistleblowing?

This year whistleblowing has been the media’s darling, dominating headlines around the world. Secretive governments, irresponsible banks, crooked businesses and unsafe healthcare have come under the spotlight thanks to workers finding the courage to speak up about wrongdoing.

Public inquiries into scandals have recommended better whistleblowing arrangements as a means to combat corruption and abuse. In the UK, the Public Interest Disclosure Act has been reformed, and the government is consulting on how to improve the legislation.

Employers across the board have pledged to support whistleblowers. But has this media attention and political promise served to strengthen the whistleblower’s hand? Or are UK organisations merely paying lip service to whistleblowing?

Public Concern at Work, the UK whistleblowing charity and global professional services organisation, has undertaken a comprehensive nationwide survey of whistleblowing policies. We surveyed organisations from over 30 sectors, including central government, banking, healthcare and construction.

Encouragingly, we found that over 90% of organisations adopt formal whistleblowing policies. Implementation, however, is a different story with one in three respondents believing that their whistleblowing arrangements are not effective. A box-ticking culture seems to be emerging, where ineffective policies which lack necessary support and advice for whistleblowers are being rubber stamped.

Training for staff who handle whistleblowing concerns appears to be woefully inadequate, with 54% of respondents saying they do not train key members of staff designated to receive concerns and nearly half of companies (44%) confuse personal complaints with whistleblowing.

Half of the organisations say that regulators review their policies and just 30% of respondents tell staff how to approach a regulator. This is extremely disappointing as regulatory involvement is pivotal and regulators should be taking the lead in overseeing and reviewing arrangements to ensure consistency, effectiveness and best practice.

There is a clear disconnect between the public discourse and what goes on behind closed doors. A whistleblowing policy cannot cure institutional silence on its own. It must be implemented by staff with expertise, backed by top management and underpinned by a strong regulatory response.  To prevent future scandals, organisations must take heed: we need an honest and pragmatic commitment to whistleblowing not a tickbox approach.

Carousel image: Creative commons, Flickr / Anthony Kelly

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Public Concern at Work

About Public Concern at Work

Public Concern at Work is a UK whistleblowing charity that aims to protect society by encouraging workplace whistleblowing.

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2 Responses to Are UK organisations merely paying lip service to whistleblowing?

  1. shankar 18 February 2014 at 5:11 pm #

    I have had a very bad personal experience as a whistle blower in a UK based MNC bank.
    whilst the bank projects that it has supportive policies for whistle blowers, it is completely intolerant towards whistleblowers . A very hypocritical bank with little or no values . I took the matter with the highest echelons in the bank, but met against a dead end. They simply buried the matter and closed out investigation , though there was enough and more evidence of a cover up of biased /preferential treatment to certain vendors . ( breaching the provisions of UK anti bribery act)

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  1. Thanksgiving should be more than lip service - WebMarkISP.com - 9 December 2013

    […] Are UK organisations merely paying lip service to whistleblowing? This year whistleblowing has been the media's darling, dominating headlines around the world. Secretive governments, irresponsible banks, crooked businesses and unsafe healthcare have come under the spotlight thanks to workers finding the courage to … Read more on Transparency International (press release) (blog) […]

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